America's Toxic Faith Problem

America has a toxic faith problem, and we need to talk about it. I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago on who “real Christians” were. In the blog I discussed how many liberal Christians tend to look at the bigotry and hate coming from evangelical conservative Christians and label them as “not real” Christians. I called out this tendency and pointed out why they are, in fact, real Christians. Then I challenged Christians to look within the church and their religion itself to identify what it is that is producing these bigoted views. Then, they should work to fix it, rather than just distance themselves from the problem. Today, I am going to explore one possible source of the problem: faith.

As atheists, we talk about this issue amongst ourselves, but we generally stay away from the topic even with our most trusted Christian friends for fear of offending them. Only the most outspoken, loud, and often angry voices talk about America’s faith problem. This ends up saddling atheists with the stereotype that we are all loud, angry, and offensive. People think we are incapable of respecting other people’s religions.

This is one of our problems. It is on us to learn how to communicate why we see faith as a problem, to the people who would be most willing to help us find a solution. We cannot make people understand our point of view by shouting them down. And, we cannot fix how people view faith, because we are on the outside. We need inside support. So, against better judgement, I am going to attempt to start the conversation.

Faith is powerful. A person’s faith in their god can feel like an overwhelmingly positive relationship. For many who are religious, faith connects them to something greater than themselves. Faith can give a person hope and meaning in their lives. These intense and positive emotions are wonderful. And for those who have a healthy view of faith, it can be hard to imagine how faith could be dangerous.

Each person’s faith is personal to them. There are no two faiths that are identical, but they all behave the same way. All versions of faith allow you to accept that something is true, even without an objective way of knowing it is true. The problem is, not everyone is right. There is an objective reality, and faith is an unreliable way of determining what that reality is. That is why we have science.

Science is a systematic and methodical way of determining truth. And we know science works because we can use the conclusions drawn from science to make airplanes fly, and predict the weather, and edit the genes of an organism to fight disease. Science is demonstrable, and repeatable. Faith does not operate this way. There is no way, using faith, to objectively tell what the truth is. But Christian culture acts as though faith is just as valid of a way to know truth as any other method. What is more, Christian culture portrays people who use faith in their daily lives to "know" truths about the world, as having a closer relationship to god. For example, depictions in movies will show a mother having faith that her child will miraculously recover from an illness, instead of listening to doctors. Or songs like “Jesus take the wheel”, which tells the story of a mother losing control of her car and instead of using safe driving techniques like putting the car in neutral, turning into the skid, and guiding the car to the side of the road, she lets go of the wheel entirely and has “faith” that Jesus will keep her and her child safe.